Pakistan: Sacked workers vent anger in Karachi

Stand off continues as workers’ siege of company headquarters enters third day

On Wednesday 19 January, the Karachi Electricity Supply Corporation (KESC) sacked 4,000 workers without prior notice. Thousands of workers and union leaders are continuing to besiege the head offices of the Power Company. The Sindh government formed a high level committee to negotiate the matter between workers and KESC management. But negotiations between the provincial government and KESC management have, so far, failed to bring any results. The workers have refused to end the siege without getting reinstatement notices. The management seems reluctant to immediately reinstate the sacked workers. The company operations have been badly affected and, in many areas, company offices remained closed for a third consecutive day.

The dispute started when company offered a Volunteer Separation Scheme (VSS) to the workers. Only 500 workers out of the workforce of 15000 opted for the VSS when the 15 January deadline arrived. The target of the company management was to retrench 4,500 workers through this VSS. When the company received only 500 applications from the workers under this scheme, the management decided to achieve their target through mass sacking.

Shocked by their sudden dismissal overnight, hundreds of employees of the Karachi Electric Supply Company erupted into protest on Thursday morning. Some of them allegedly vented their anger on KESC officials and property.

The sacked employees, led by their trade union leaders, staged a protest demonstration outside the KESC office on Abdullah Haroon Road early in the morning and later pitched themselves outside the KESC head offices adjacent to the Gizri grid. A violent reaction by the fired employees was seen in the morning and there were reports of ransacking of the KESC offices, burning of its vehicles and use of strong arm tactics against its officials.

Labour leaders denied the violence allegations, and said that except for an initial reaction, workers did not indulge in looting or arson attacks.

The affected employees and their leaders have camped on the road outside the head office “until the KESC management withdraw the sacking order”. “The workers are very angry and will do whatever possible to take their jobs back “, said one of the union leaders.

CBA union Chairman, Akhlaq Ahmad and General Secretary Shahzad Ahmad, General Secretary of the People’s Workers Union Lateef Mughal, Aslam Sammo, Ayaz Mangal and other trade union leaders have been camped outside the KESC head office for the last three days. A delegation from Progressive Workers Federation of Pakistan (PWF) is also participating in this ‘siege’ and also running a solidarity campaign for sacked workers. Many trade union leaders have, so far, visited the camp and every political party in the country has condemned this sacking.

KESC was a state-owned company and only privatised during the last military dictatorship of General Musharaf. It was bought by a Saudi Arabian company which tried to ban trade unions in the company. Now another consortium of companies is running this privatised company. The new management is trying hard to reduce the workforce.

Another committee formed to end standoff: Many booked in KESC offices attack case

The stand-off between the Karachi Electric Supply Company management and the sacked employees took a new turn on Friday when hundreds of people who had attacked the KESC head offices at Gizri on Thursday morning were booked on charges of loot, arson, attempted murder, death threats, damage to property and injuring people.

The KESC, meanwhile, claimed that its management was being forced to curtail and in some areas completely shut down operations due to the failure of the law-enforcement agencies to confront elements who had allegedly attacked the head offices, ransacked equipment and torched vehicles and were harassing others to prevent them from going to work.

The KESC lodged a case (FIR No 30/2011) under Sections 147, 148, 149, 327, 435, 324, 395, 506-B of the Pakistan Penal Code at the Defence police station against CBA chairman of Labour

Union Ikhlaq Ahmed, Aslam Samo of the People’s Workers Union, Asad Arbab Kasoti, Haji Shehzad, Aziz, Rajmir, Usman Baloch and others, said a media release of the power utility.

The power utility said that top management officials went into hiding to escape the wrath of the violent protesters because of “the state’s failure to provide protection against such elements” and manage strategic operations of the company remotely.

It said that despite requests to the local and provincial governments to provide security and prevent this unlawful behaviour by rogue elements, the KESC received no help or support. The press release said: “The responsibility for any impact on consumers as a result of extended outages rests squarely and solely on the state and the rogue elements who are creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

“Under extreme threat and risk to life and security, KESC’s management has been forced to move to undisclosed location to manage possible strategic operations of the company remotely.”

However, KESC management avoided meeting the committee. Sources in the provincial government said that KESC management’s response and remarks about the “state’s” responsibility caused displeasure. They said that the government had always helped the privatised utility company obtain oil at gas prices to overcome its generation problems, despite its failure to reduce the rising graph of line losses and putting the people and industry under stress.

Both the government and the KESC management are accusing each other in this situation. The government is under immense pressure from the determined workers and possible fall out from this mass sacking if these workers are not reinstated. One government ally, MQM, has already threatened to launch a movement for the reinstatement of the workers. Different religious and other smaller political parties are also threatening to launch protest movement. Many unions have announced to organise solidarity demonstrations. On the other hand, the management is putting pressure on the government to launch a massive crackdown on the protesting workers to end the siege and resume normal operations of the company.

While the stand-off between the employees and the management of the KESC continued, people from different parts of the city complained that there was a complete blackout in their respective areas and the power utility was not attending their frantic calls.

PWF and TURCP support the struggle of KESC workers and condemn the mass sacking. Workers should not trust the bourgeois parties, like PPP, MQM and PML-N and also the religious political parties like JI, Sunni Tehrik (ST) and JUP. All these parties supported the privatisation of the KESC. MQM not only supported the privatisation but helped the government to complete the privatisation process and threatened the unions which were opposing the privatisation. KESC and other unions must form strike and solidarity committees to further support the struggle. The trade union movement and workers should be mobilised to defeat the management. Solidarity protests must be organised throughout the country to put pressure on the management. KESC unions should immediately announce a strike action in support of the sacked workers.

We demand!

– Reinstate all the sacked workers.

– Re-nationalise the KESC under the democratic workers control and management.

– Withdraw all the cases against union leaders and workers immediately.

– No cuts, job losses and worsening working conditions in the name of so-called restructuring.

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January 2011